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Tips for Camping in Canada and the U.S.

Camping in Canada and the U.S. offers another excellent way to save money on accommodation, but you’ll need a vehicle to access campgrounds.

With the exception of a few places such as Banff, the Grand Canyon, and Jasper national parks, camping is totally impractical for Greyhound and rail travellers in North America.

And, unlike in Europe, camping even with a car is impractical in or at the edge of most large cities.


In deciding whether or not to camp, consider the weather.

During the summer, in much of the eastern, central, and southern United States, as well as in the areas of Ontario and Quebec near Toronto and Montreal, you may find it too warm and too humid at night to sleep comfortably in a tent.

These areas are much warmer and more humid than northern Europe, New Zealand, etc.

Moreover, during July, and especially August, September, and October, very heavy rains may fall at times in the eastern and southern U.S., as tropical storms move toward the United States.

Best summer camping

Therefore, we suggest limiting extensive summer camping to the Appalachian Mountains (where you may still get lots of rain at times), to the hills of New England, to the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, to anywhere in Canada north or west of lower Ontario (away from the London and Toronto areas), to Quebec away from Montreal, and to the U.S. from the Rockies westward, except for lower elevation desert areas.

Note though that you are far more likely to be bothered by insects such as black flies and mosquitoes in the eastern and central portions of Canada and the U.S. Camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California will seem like paradise in contrast!

Camp anywhere for a few days during the summer, but limit extensive camping to the areas mentioned above.

Book in advance?

You should book space in advance in popular areas during peak seasons.

The populations of Canada and the U.S. have unfortunately grown far faster than the number of campsites.

For example, some 40,000,000 people live within a one day drive of Yosemite National Park.

Periodically, you may fall behind schedule and lose a camping deposit, but that is a small price to pay for usually avoiding the hassle of finding space at the most popular camping areas at the last minute. Build some padding into your schedule, and you won’t likely fall behind.

If you must show up at the most popular areas in peak season without a reservation, show up early in the day.

Booking options

Many provincial, state, and national parks have booking options on their Internet sites.

ReserveAmerica books many parks and also has an extensive selection of primitive campgrounds on U.S. federal land.

Primitive U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, for example, are very cheap, You may have pit toilets and no hot water to contend with, but your wilderness experience may be supreme.

Note that even a modest motel room in Santa Barbara can cost $175 on a warm summer weekend, but less than 15 miles away a Forest Service campground will change you under $20.

Doc V enjoys the “away-from-it-all” primitive camping experience, and have few problems.

California State Park system

I especially like ReserveAmerica’s campsite selection in the wonderful California State Park system, but you have to book these as far ahead as possible.

I cannot recommend the California state park system enough. Decades ago, California decided to keep its state parks, including their campgrounds, as natural as possible.

This sharply contrasts to the manicured lawns and other landscaping, massive resort lodges, and even golf courses found in certain other provincial and state park systems, and—sad to say—in some Canadian national parks. One of the worst offenders is the Ontario provincial park system, which sometimes removes trees and other natural vegetation it does not’t like, and plants something else it considers more pleasing. (Its huge Algonquin Provincial Park is still a joy to visit, however.)

When Doc V wants to experience a superbly manicured lawn, he ventures into his yard.

Commercial campgrounds

In addition to government-run campgrounds, check out various commercial campground chains.

The most popular of these in Canada and especially the U.S. is KOA, which has great amenities and generally well-run facilities. Its campsites tend to be too close together, however. It’s as if one cookie cutter plan has been used at all locations regardless of terrain. Many KOA locations also rent cabins.

You'll nearly always pay more to camp commercially.

Campground ratings

Both the Canadian (CAA) and American (AAA) automobile associations offer campground guides with recommended places free to members. These are highly recommended. Membership in these clubs gives good value to automobile users. You need a legal postal address in a province or state to join.

Sometimes you find their guides in public libraries.

Sierra Club

If you don’t use a car, but still want to camp, check out membership in the Sierra Club, whose members arrange transportation to scenic areas in both Canada and the U.S. This club is highly recommended for everyone who wants to preserve and experience the natural beauty of North America with like-minded people.

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